The painter stood
Before her work
She looked around everywhere
She saw the pictures and she painted them
She picked the colours from the air
(The Painter – Neil Young)
My first week had barely taken off when I found myself standing at a former military base staring at the work we had done. An overwhelmingly hot afternoon, a number of motivated Palestinians and internationals, a lot of paint, water and sweat were the necessary ingredients to shape a stance against a possible new illegal settlement in the Westbank. A non-violent stance that is, made up out of painting and playing Online Bingo Games at a place called Oush Grab.
A short history lesson teaches that Oush Grab, meaning Crow’s nest in Arabic, served as an Israeli military base from 1967 up until 2006. In this period the originally Jordan base grew at the expense of surrounding Palestinian landowners. Today, in 2008, the private confiscated land has been returned to its owners and the rest of Oush Grab has become public land under the authority and jurisdiction of the Beit Sahour municipality. However, at the top of the hill of Oush Grab, some deserted military structures remain in place and a military order still covers their presence. This means that even though it is public land, the municipality is not allowed to build or develop there. So far, some facts and figures.
Due to the lack of open spaces and safe playgrounds for children the municipality has decided to turn Oush Grab into a recreational area and picnic place. The construction is almost finished and families slowly make more and more use of the facilities offered. This process would move a lot quicker if they had no reason to fear the place, but unfortunately such a reason presented itself on May 15, known to Palestinians as Nakba day.
A group of about 40 settlers, some armed, appeared to take over the site at the top of the hill and declared that they wanted to build a new settlement outpost there. Thereupon the settlers spray painted slogans such as ‘Israel belongs to the Jews’, on the walls. The presence of the settlers at Oush Grab and the possibility of a new settlement outpost there threatens the security of the Beit Sahour community and the existence and use of the newly built safe recreational area. In order to defend the rights of this land local ngo’s have come together to promote the further integration of the site within the local community in order to show the importance it holds to Palestinians and the fact that a new settlement will not be accepted. They have decided to do this in a unique way; an organization named Decolonizing Architecture has created a plan to develop the hill top space for community usage without breaking the military order. In reality this translates into transforming the meaning of the place without any actual restructuring.
Armed with nothing but these motivations and buckets of paint volunteers have set to work to cover the racist graffiti with non political signs to turn the area into ‘Oush Grab Plaza’. A next step was taken on the friday that followed: a bingo. Even though the soldiers did not find it particularly amusing this is a unique way of peacefully refusing the place to turn into an illegal settlement, integrating it into the community and avoiding violent confrontation.
Oush Grab is one of those examples where it is necessary to distance yourself from the issue of Palestinians versus Israelis for a minute and realize that that is not even the case here. Factually the territory is acknowledged by both sides as public Palestinian land with a military order in place that currently prevents the development of the space. That’s all. The attempt by anyone to built anything is thus illegal and when the military order is lifted it remains illegal for Israeli settlers to occupy the space because it is Palestinian land. This is also why the Israeli military has removed settlers from the site.
Unfortunately, Oush Grab is only one of too many places in the Westbank where it is an urgent necessity to stand up for justice based on the rule of law and the actual facts on the ground.
Posted By Rianne Van Doeveren
Posted Jun 10th, 2008